On October 2, 1918, 554 U.S. soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines in the Argonne Forest. Targeted by the Germans and under friendly fire from unknowing allies, they seemed marked to death. But six days later, salvation came from a most unlikely source…a carrier pigeon named Cher Ami.
The “Lost Battalion”?
The “Lost Battalion” seemed doomed from the start. Due to a lack of communication, the troops advanced beyond the other allied forces and were quickly cut off by the Germans. They lacked ample food and ammunition. To get water, the soldiers were forced to crawl to a nearby stream, dodging fire along the way.
Major Charles Whittlesey dispatched several runners to alert the allies to his predicament. But none of them broke through the line. As a last ditch effort, he sent several carrier pigeons aloft with messages tied to their ankles.
The first carrier pigeon reached its destination. Now on full alert, the allies struck out to rescue the Lost Battalion. But unfortunately, this backfired in horrendous fashion. The carrier pigeon’s message contained the wrong coordinates and the Lost Battalion found itself under artillery attack from its own allies.
Major Whittlesey desperately sought to correct the mistake. He sent two additional carrier pigeons into the air, but they were shot down. Then, on October 4, he sent out his last carrier pigeon. This pigeon, an American Black Check by the name of Cher Ami, contained a note attached to his left leg.
Cher Ami – The Pigeon that Saved the “Lost Battalion”?
The Germans took aim at Cher Ami and shot him down. But Cher Ami proved up to the challenge. Somehow, he managed to regain flight and flew 25 miles back to division headquarters. By the time he arrived, he was severely wounded and blind in one eye. However, Cher Ami still had his message:
“WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT.”
The allies quickly called off the artillery assault and subsequently, rescued the Lost Battalion. The cost was steep. About 200 men were killed in action. Another 150 were taken prisoner or reported lost.
In the aftermath, Cher Ami became a minor celebrity, especially to the 194 soldiers who managed to survive the incident. They nursed him back to health and eventually awarded him with the Croix de Guerre. Cher Ami died in New Jersey on June 13, 1919. He’s a member of the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame and his stuffed body (pictured above) is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History.